From Ironworks to concrete – the later history of the Storforth Lane ironworks site

In our last blog on this site at Storforth Lane we looked at the history of the Wingerworth and Broad Oaks ironworks, with their blast furnaces, on Storforth Lane. In this blog we bring the story up-to-date.

In 1931 Tarmac acquired the site of Broad Oaks blast furnaces, which had closed in 1907, presumably with a view to recovering slag for use as road metal.

After the Second World War the site passed to Henry Boot, a firm of Sheffield building contractors, who in 1956 established Reema-Boot Ltd. They produced prefabricated concrete sections for both domestic and commercial buildings. Locally this included the mission church at Boythorpe erected by SS Augustine (now the St Francis Community Centre).

By this 1938 map the ‘Broad Oaks furnaces’ are clearly marked disused, though the network of internal railways remains, along with their connection to the Midland mainline railway. (Ordnance Survey, Derbyshire Sheet XXV.SW, Revised: 1938. Courtesy National Library of Scotland).
All the remaining buildings had been removed by the date of this map – 1951. There are remnants of the internal railway system still present at this date. Five years later Henry Boot, a firm of Sheffield building contractors, established Reema-Boot Ltd, who produced sectionalised concrete structures from the site. (Ordnance Survey, SK36 (includes: 43/36) – Publication date: 1951. Courtesy National Library of Scotland).

The process was developed by a Wiltshire company, Reed & Mallik (hence Reema) established in 1937. In 1963 it was said that nationally 13,000 Reema houses had been erected, divided between over 400 contracts.

The system involved casting panels the height of a single storey at the works, which could be erected on a prepared foundation with minimal use of skilled labour. The panels slotted into a reinforced concrete frame which tied the building together and ensured that joints between panels were watertight. This method could be used for buildings of up to four storeys, in which load was borne by the frame. For taller buildings the hollow wall panels were filled to provide load-bearing cross-walls. The external wall panels were cast with cavities containing half-inch thick fibreboard insulation. The floor panels were generally hollow. A final external finish to the wall panels was applied at the factory, using various materials, of which gravel proved to amongst the cheapest and most successful. In 1963 it was reported that Reema had been using a range of self-cleaning finishes in glass and china, and some experimental panels had been faced with crushed whisky bottles.

The Storforth Lane factory then had 140 workers, of whom only six were skilled – the joiners who made the wooden moulds for the panels. The factory was using a thousand different moulds, a number which the company pointed out could be reduced to 50 if local authorities would agree on standard designs for houses.

At Brimington, near Chesterfield, the Coal Industry Housing Association built an estate which used (though not exclusively) Reema houses. Originally the houses were painted white, leading to the nickname ‘White City’. To the right the light blue painted building is now one of a few that have not been pebble-dashed. Closer examination, not possible here, would reveal its system built concrete panels.
The Reema construction method was used in other buildings, such as churches, halls, etc. This is St Francis Community Centre at Boythorpe, one such example.

A contract for 2,000 houses for the Coal Industry Housing Association had been produced using only 34 moulds and two types of house. Other differences included the finish required for floors, including timber, thermoplastic, composition, granite or terrazo. Local authorities in the south preferred metal window frames, those in the north timber. In some case heating was ducted, in others embedded.

The company estimated that a factory capable of producing 500 houses a year could be built for £150,000. It had by 1963 built (or had under construction) 2,780 houses at Leeds (Yorks. WR) and between October 1959 and March 1962 had erected 1,810 dwellings.

By this 1960s map the site (centre) was well developed with buildings in use for construction of Reema structures by Reema (Chesterfield) Ltd. All remnants of the internal railway system and its links with the mainline have disappeared. (Ordnance Survey, SK36NE – A. Surveyed/Revised: 1960 to 1967, Published: 1967. Courtesy National Library of Scotland).

The company was renamed Reema (Chesterfield) Ltd in 1959, in 1975 it became Storforth Contractors Ltd, and in 1976 was dissolved.

After the works went out of use the main ironworks site south of Storforth Lane was redeveloped as an industrial estate, as it still is today.

Storforth Lane, September 2022. The railway bridge, still in use over the former Midland mainline, is to the right. The entrance to the ready-mixed concrete company is to the left. This is the site of the former transfer railway sidings for the ironworks. Reference to some of the maps in this blog will show that a railway once crossed the road in this vicinity.

A small area north of Storforth Lane immediately west of the Midland Railway bridge, originally occupied by transfer sidings for the ironworks, continues to be used by a ready-mixed concrete company.

Storforth lane, looking east. The industrial buildings and estates on the right are on the former ironwork’s site.

Our Hasland book contains full source references for this blog.

You can learn more about other properties in Hasland in our book – ‘A history of Hasland including Birdholme, Boythrope, Corbriggs, Grassmoor, Hady, Spital and Winsick’. It’s on sale at the Chesterfield Visitor Centre and Waterstones in Chesterfield, priced at £20 for 206 pages with illustrations.

Our Hasland book